Bullies Can Expire – I Mean, Inspire

I had a bully in school. It wasn’t anything too severe. Sometimes I came home with a few bruises. My self-esteem was more affected than anything. I certainly consider myself one of the lucky ones.

The impression that remains with me is an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Did you know those feelings can lie dormant in a person and resurface? Suppose ten or more years pass, and you’re walking into a grocery store in your hometown—you could be on your cell phone finishing a call—and someone approaches. You look up, wondering who’s impersonating a human wall in front of you, only to find yourself peering into a face that sends you back to elementary and junior high school. What would you do? Would you drop your eyes and keep talking on the phone, pretending not to have recognized your old bully?

That’s what I did. He walked away. He retreated behind the Hallmark card display. I knew he thought I hadn’t recognized him. I let him think that and kept walking. Mentally, I wanted to greet him, all assured and genial, ready to laugh over those school days. That would’ve been the mature thing to do, after all. Instead, my body reacted as though it was going to perform a none-too-composed sprint into the parking lot. My heart was in my throat. I couldn’t breathe. It was everything I could do to stroll over casually to the produce and pretend he wasn’t there still.

As the initial dread wore off, I became curious: Why was he shopping for cards in the grocery store, his head floating above the display as though it were disembodied*, haunting me like a gruesome nightmare? Why had he approached me and not spoken? That soon changed to indignation. How dare he show his face in the same store! Why didn’t he leave? I hoped he would be gone by the time I came back to the checkout.

While I shopped, I kept a sharp eye out for him, looking over my shoulder at every turn. Gathering milk from the dairy cooler, I slewed round repeatedly, just to keep a constant check on my blind spots. I must’ve looked mad. I felt mad—insane, unreasoning, and furious all at once. Why was I acting like a kid again? Adults don’t act like this! Do they?

It would be nice if I could say I met him again and learned he is actually very nice. I didn’t. The only other thing I recall in that brief meeting was his sweatshirt with the word “Marines.” That was at eye-level. Maybe he’d relocated.

There is no real closure to this. That’s why it makes for a perfect story idea. Most of the stories written begin with a question like, “How would it be?” or “What would have happened?” The best stories are based in fact, where the vivid emotions choke the writer as the words are penned.

So, I went with that. I let Amanda Hartley pour out her soul in her own words about her middle school nemesis, Paul Skinner. Angry rant after angry rant, her life unfolded before me until the anger became knowledge and the knowledge became understanding. I followed her for the next two years, purely through her journal entries addressed to Paul, the notes in school, the Facebook posts and messages, and their texts, and watched her develop confidence and unconventional friendships.

When I finished writing I Have Nothing to Say To You, I knew I’d exorcised my own bully baggage. I also knew the story premise was dated. The term “bully” has undergone a significant makeover in the last decade. Middle grade readers would not be open-minded, having been indoctrinated with almost religious zeal to equate bullies with proud rack-of-dead-deer-posing, Global Warming-loving, nasal brain-scraper-toting Nazis with questionable attributes linking them to a dastardly species of genetically modified zombies. And I shudder to think what terrible creatures those bullies are. Mine was just a mean, often pain-giving, sort of person—still roughly human.


*Edited- This was originally ‘disemboweled.’ (sheepish grin) Thanks, Mom O!

Author: Rilla Z

I'm a scribbler. I'm genuine. My topics of interest are: this world, the worlds inside my head, and the world to come. Oh, and cups of tea. Yes, I write about my cups of tea.

13 thoughts on “Bullies Can Expire – I Mean, Inspire”

  1. I’m not sure what my reaction would be in such a situation because I never had to deal with a bully in school. But I could see where a victim’s “non-recognition” might be the biggest kick in the gut for a bully. Someone who once dominated his peers is now forgotten and unrecognized? It might be fitting….


  2. Hi Rilla, I suffered the same and I did it, when I saw this guy many years after, I talked to him. Not because I was rational, was a redemption for me and now all my demons (about this) has gone. Thanks for sharing your experience.


  3. I had my fair share of bullies. But I wasn’t always a bit indifferent toward them, even friendly under certain circumstances. I’m a pretty accomodating guy.

    But there was one, well two really, they worked as a pair. I had done some supposed grievous injury to one when we in fourth grade and he’d apparently carried it with him for six more years…years I had spent moving from school to school until finally returning to his.

    He remembered me. I did not remember him.

    Long story short, he had a partner, name was George, tall thin, but otherwise he looked like Charlie Brown…and I mean THE Charlie Brown, evil though. Yep, I was bullied by an evil Charlie Brown…gnarly huh?

    I don’t know what I would do if I saw George now…Hmm?


  4. Hi again. I did a post myself on bullies, but now I can’t remember which one it is. I have to look for it. I remember it was prompted by a sister writer who was also bullied in school. I was also bullied for a little, but then I moved to NY where school was completely different. I do, however, remember coming back as an adult and running into a bully. They were unbelievably friendly. But, yes it felt very awkward, I guess from my perspective. Just know that they are the ones still with that problem, we move on. Oh, I shared this on Twitter. I think we need to get this out as much as possible.


  5. Hello there, I have nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. You can find details on my most recent post, thanks for blogging. I’ve either found your work insirational, or resourceful, so you’ve earned it. Keep up the good work.


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